RAC Rundown: Economic Justice

The following is part of the “RAC Rundown” series of special legislative briefings that have been presented at Tzedek Central throughout the 2011 URJ Biennial.

Working on behalf of those in need is at the very core of our Jewish tradition. We are commanded to leave the corners of our fields unharvested, so that “the poor person and the stranger” (Leviticus 19:9-10) might not go without. We are taught in Deuteronomy (15:7-11) that “If there is a needy person among you… do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your kin. Rather, you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient.” Indeed, our tradition goes well beyond demanding charity only. Maimonides taught us that the highest level of tzedakah “above which there is no other, is to strengthen the name of another Jew by giving him a present or loan, or making a partnership with him, or finding him a job in order to strengthen his hand until he needs no longer [beg from] people.” He elaborates that it is to “strengthen him until he needs no longer fall [upon the mercy of the community or be in need.” In other words, the very highest level of tzedakah is to achieve justice and righteousness in society.

In 2010, the US Department of Agriculture estimated that more than 48 million Americans were hungry—1 in 5 of whom were children. In Canada, usage of food banks has increased more than 99% since 1989, and is currently at record highs. The Center for American Progress recently noted that one in two American children will receive food stamp benefits before their eighteenth birthday. A world with this many hungry people, especially so many children, is certainly neither just nor right. Yet we see some Members of Congress pushing proposals that would devastate key social safety net programs, such as those that help the  millions of hungry people, in the name of budget cutting. Responsible budgeting must not come at the expense of achieving a just society. We are instructed in Proverbs to “speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy” (31:9). Yet a balanced budget amendment would restrict the ability of the government to do precisely this- forcing us to defy what we are taught in Proverbs, in Deuteronomy and in other sacred texts of our tradition.

Make your voice heard on these important issues, and please, speak up. We are blessed to live in countries where ordinary citizens can make a difference. I encourage you all to do so. 

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Ian Hainline

About Ian Hainline

Ian Hainline is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. He is from Chapel Hill, NC, and is a member of Judea Reform Congregation.

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